SIU students win national recognition for entrepreneurship

Student entrepreneurship is alive and well at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as was evident at the most recent edition of the Saluki Pitch Competition. With the popular event moved online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the participants wowed contest organizers and viewers with their inventive concepts, which ranged from allowing customers to try on clothes virtually to Islamic friendly tourism. Now organizers are inviting other students from all majors to get involved in SIU entrepreneurship.

Five competed for the top prize

The premise of the competition is simple. Contestants present an idea for an innovative product or service they believe to be commercially viable for a maximum of 90 seconds, the length of an average elevator ride, to prospective investors.

Undergraduate and graduate students alike participated in the annual pitch competition, and five finalists vied for a shot at $1,500 in concept development funding.

“I was very impressed by the diversity and how uniquely different each contestant’s idea was,” said Tristan Workman, Saluki Entrepreneur Corps president. Workman assisted the students with their pitch development and presentations.

Engineering major wins top prize

A panel of judges selected the top two winners from recorded pitches. Then, there was a livestreamed event and viewers voted for their favorite.

Dannaka White, a senior electrical and computer engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, took first prize, $750 in concept development funds. He presented DinK, a new technology concept giving customers the opportunity to “try on” online apparel before they make purchases. In addition, White received an automatic entry to the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization Global Pitch Competition and CEO Conference, held virtually a few weeks later last semester.

White was pleased with the win and said the competition was a great learning experience.

“The 2020 Saluki Pitch Competition allowed me to think outside of the box,” White said. “I’m not naïve; I know that winning the competition was just a first step of the many to come before DinK or any other endeavor is brought to fruition. The competition allowed me to see my strong points as well as mishaps. Oftentimes, the answer is right before you; sometimes you must look at the situation from a different perspective. We all are destined for greatness.”

Prizes for more Salukis

Two others claimed concept development funds for their ideas as well. Md. Jawad Siddique, a master’s student in computer science from Chittagong, Bangladesh, won the second prize of $500 for HELPO, an app to connect skilled workers or helpers with people who need them.

Winning the crowd favorite prize of $250 was Asma Ghazouani, a master’s student in advanced energy and fuels management from Tunisia. Her concept is for Muslim Steps Around the World, to provide Islamic friendly tourist services. Ghazouani received 40% of the nearly 150 votes cast.

The other finalists included:

  • Dylan Boyle-Levy, a junior electrical engineering technology major from Plymouth, Michigan, presented PowerLabs, a solution to repurpose old power sources for new uses.
  • Murray Fulk, a senior health care management major from Carbondale, introduced E-Ventures LLC, an online e-sports gaming platform.

The SIU pitch competition has gotten more than 1,100 views since originally posted.

Judges included:

National competition

Fulk also applied for the CEO 2020 Virtual Global Pitch Competition and was selected to join White in the top 100 competitors among more than 300 qualified applicants on 151 campuses from across the country. The top 100 competitors engaged in a rigorous new venture creation process that included a business model canvas, one-year launch plan and pitch deck, according to Deborah Barnett, Saluki Entrepreneur Corps adviser and director of SIU’s Business Incubator Programs.

“I continue to be amazed by the innovative ideas and real-world problems that our students present,” Barnett said. “Pitching an idea in 90 seconds is not easy, but each and every year students rise to the challenge. We were excited to see the diversity evident at this competition as Salukis of various backgrounds, ethnicities and academic majors came together with ingenuity as the common thread, and we are very proud of how well they presented at the local and global competitions. Research and innovation are alive and well at Southern Illinois University, and the pitch competition students are great examples of that.”

Get involved

As the new semester begins, the Saluki Entrepreneur Corps is hosting a 2021 spring semester kick-off event via Zoom from 2 to 3 p.m. on Jan. 22 to introduce any interested undergraduate or graduate student to the unique registered student organization. SEC helps connect students with successful entrepreneurs, collaborate with other student innovators and gain real-world innovation and entrepreneurship experience.

For more information about the event or the organization, visit the Facebook page at or email Workman at  The group will also be involved in SIU’s online spring 2021 Involvement Fair.

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